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I didn't see this posted anywhere, if it's a duplicate, sorr
« on: February 08, 2007, 03:11:40 PM »
The Trouble with Troubled Teen Programs
How the "boot camp" industry tortures and kills kids
Maia Szalavitz | January 2007 Print Edition
The state of Florida tortured 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson to death for trespassing. The teen had been sentenced to probation in 2005 for taking a joy ride in a Jeep Cherokee that his cousins stole from his grandmother. Later that year, he crossed the grounds of a school on his way to visit a friend, a violation of his probation. His parents were given a choice between sending him to boot camp and sending him to juvenile detention. They chose boot camp, believing, as many Americans do, that ?tough love? was more likely to rehabilitate him than prison.
Less than three hours after his admission to Florida?s Bay County Sheriff?s Boot Camp on January 5, 2006, Anderson was no longer breathing. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead early the next morning.
A video recorded by the camp shows up to 10 of the sheriff?s ?drill instructors? punching, kicking, slamming to the ground, and dragging the limp body of the unresisting adolescent. Anderson had reported difficulty breathing while running the last of 16 required laps on a track, a complaint that was interpreted as defiance. When he stopped breathing entirely, this too was seen as a ruse.
Ammonia was shoved in the boy?s face; this tactic apparently had been used previously to shock other boys perceived as resistant into returning to exercises. The guards also applied what they called ?pressure points? to Anderson?s head with their hands, one of many ?pain compliance? methods they had been instructed to impose on children who didn?t immediately do as they were told.
All the while, a nurse in a white uniform stood by, looking bored. At one point she examined the boy with a stethoscope, then allowed the beating to continue until he was unconscious. An autopsy report issued in May?after an initial, disputed report erroneously attributed Anderson?s death to a blood disorder?concluded that he had died of suffocation, due to the combined effects of ammonia and the guards? covering his mouth and nose.
Every time a child dies in a tough love program, politicians say?as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush initially did on hearing of Anderson?s death?that it is ?one tragic incident? that should not be used to justify shutting such programs down. But there have now been nearly three dozen such deaths and thousands of reports of severe abuse in programs that use corporal punishment, brutal emotional attacks, isolation, and physical restraint in an attempt to reform troubled teenagers.
Tough love has become a billion-dollar industry. Several hundred programs, both public and private, use the approach. Somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 teenagers are currently held in treatment programs based on the belief that adolescents must be broken (mentally, and often physically as well) before they can be fixed. Exact numbers are impossible to determine, because no one keeps track of the kids in these programs, most of which are privately run. The typical way to end up in a government-run program, such as the camp where Martin Lee Anderson was killed, is for a court to give you the option of going there instead of prison. The typical way to end up in a private program is to be sent there by your parents, though judges and public schools have been known to send kids to private boot camps as well. Since they offer ?treatment,? some of the private centers are covered by health insurance.
In the nearly five decades since the first tough love residential treatment community, Synanon, introduced the idea of attack therapy as a cure for drug abuse, hundreds of thousands of young people have undergone such ?therapy.? These programs have both driven and been driven by the war on drugs. Synanon, for example, was aimed at fighting heroin addiction, its draconian methods justified by appeals to parents? fears that drugs could do far worse things to their children than a little rough treatment could. The idea was that only a painful experience of ?hitting bottom? could end an attachment to the pleasures of drugs.
But like the drug war itself, tough love programs are ineffective, based on pseudoscience, and rooted in a brutal ideology that produces more harm than most of the problems they are supposedly aimed at addressing. The history of tough love shows how fear consistently trumps data, selling parents and politicians on a product that hurts kids.
Attack Therapy Utopia
Synanon was a supposedly utopian California community founded in 1958 by an ex-alcoholic named Chuck Dederich. Dederich believed he could improve on the voluntary 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rather than rely on people choosing to change, Synanon would use extreme peer pressure and even physical coercion to impose the confession, surrender, and service to others that 12-step programs suggest as the road to recovery.
At the time, heroin addiction was seen as incurable. But when a heroin addict kicked drugs after participating in Dederich?s brutally confrontational encounter groups, the founder and other members began living communally and promoting Synanon as an addiction cure.
The media took note, and soon state officials from across the country were visiting and setting up copycat programs back home to treat addicts. Only New Jersey bothered to do an outcome study before replicating Synanon. The investigation, released in 1969, found that only 10 to 15 percent of participants stayed in the program for more than a few months and actually ended their addictions, a rate no better than that achieved without treatment. A 1973 study of encounter groups by the Stanford psychiatrist Irvin Yalom and his colleague Morton Lieberman found that 9 percent of participants experienced lasting psychological damage and that Synanon groups were among those with the highest numbers of casualties.
But the research didn?t matter. To both the media and the politicians, anecdote was evidence. The idea that toughness was the answer had a deep appeal to those who saw drug use as sin and punishment as the way to redemption. And Synanon produced testimonials worthy of a revival meeting. Indeed, it eventually recast itself as the ?Church of Synanon.?
By the early 1970s, the federal government itself had funded its own Synanon clone. It was located in Florida and known as The Seed.
In this program, teenagers who were using drugs or who were believed to be at risk of doing so would spend 10-to-12-hour days seated on hard-backed chairs and waving furiously to catch the attention of staffers, most of whom were former participants themselves. Like Arnold Horshack in Welcome Back, Kotter but with more desperate urgency, they would flutter their hands, begging to be called on to confess their bad behavior. Even before the excesses of the ?80s, parents were so frightened of drugs that they were willing to surrender their children to strangers for tough treatment to avoid even the possibility of addiction; some parents even hit their children themselves at Seed meetings, following the instructions of program leaders.
When kids entered The Seed, they lived in ?host homes? ?houses of parents of other program participants that had been specially prepared to incarcerate teenagers at night. If these ?newcomers? didn?t give convincing enough confessions in group sessions, they would not be allowed to ?progress? in the program and return to home and school.
In 1974 Sen. Sam Ervin, the North Carolina Democrat best known for heading the congressional committee that investigated Watergate, presented a report to Congress entitled ?Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification.? Ervin and other members of Congress were concerned about federal funding for efforts to change people?s behavior against their will, seeing a fundamental threat to liberty if such efforts were successful. The report cited The Seed as an example of programs that ?begin by subjecting the individual to isolation and humiliation in a conscious effort to break down his psychological defenses.? It concluded that such programs are ?similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans in the early 1950?s.?
The Seed Germinates
Ervin?s report led Congress to cut off The Seed?s funding. But The Seed had produced two important true believers: Mel Sembler, who went on to serve as campaign finance chairman for the Republican Party during the 2000 election season and as U.S. ambassador to Italy from 2001 to 2005, and Joseph Zappala, who would go on to serve under the first President Bush as ambassador to Spain and who at the time was also a major Republican campaign donor.
In 1976 Sembler and Zappala founded a program virtually identical to The Seed, staffed by former Seed parents and participants (including some who had become Seed staffers). They named it Straight Incorporated. The federal agency that had funded The Seed, the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency, had been barred from funding further human experiments because neither the agency nor projects like The Seed had procedures for informed consent. Despite that fact, and despite the congressional critique of The Seed, Straight soon received federal money from the same agency. It, too, never informed parents that it was experimental.
Straight expanded rapidly in the ?80s, around the same time newspapers, TV, and other media were filled with dire warnings about the dangers of crack. Nancy Reagan called it her ?favorite? drug program. In fact, it was a visit to Straight, suggested by Sembler, that had inspired the first lady to make drugs her cause.
An undated issue of Straight?s newsletter, Epidemic, from around this time carried a photo of the legs of a young-looking corpse with a tag on one toe: ?Cocaine, crack and kids.? The accompanying article said crack was ?almost instantaneously addictive???the most addictive drug known to man??and passed along the tale of a 16-year-old girl who had recently tried smoking cocaine. ?One night I noticed a big lump on my back,? she wrote. ?I was rushed to the hospital and operated on and had two tumors removed. The tumors were caused by impurities in the coke which built up in my blood and got infected.? Such a story, if true, would have made medical history.
But for the media, drugs act as an anti-skeptic; the scarier the consequences, the bigger the story, the higher the ratings, and the lower the incentive to qualify extreme claims. The 1986 documentary 48 Hours on Crack Street purported to show the crack menace spreading ineluctably to the middle class. It drew one of the largest TV audiences ever for a news program.
Between 1981 and 1989, Straight opened sites in Atlanta; Cincinnati; Orlando; Boston; Detroit; Yorba Linda, California; and Springfield, Virginia. Former employees opened virtually identical programs in New Jersey, Kentucky, Utah, New Mexico, and Florida in the late ?80s and early ?90s.
Spanking and Motivating
As far back as 1978, however, employees had begun to quit Straight and contact regulators, reporting beatings and other maltreatment. ?The program was getting?so bad that I felt it was hurting more kids than it was helping,? one anonymous former staffer told the St. Petersburg Times that year. Miller Newton, Straight?s national clinical director, admitted to authorities in 1982 that he had kept teenagers awake for 72-hour periods, put them on peanut butter?only diets, and forced them to crawl through each other?s legs to be hit in a ?spanking machine.?
At Straight, The Seed?s hand-waving procedure to get staff attention during group sessions mutated into ?motivating,? in which kids flapped their arms so vigorously it looked like they were trying to fly away. The movements were so violent that more than once teenagers hit those sitting next to them, resulting in broken bones.
Richard Bradbury, whose activism eventually helped shut Straight down, was forcibly enrolled in the program in 1983, when he was 17. His sister had had a drug problem, and Straight demanded that he be screened for one as well. After an eight-hour interrogation in a tiny room, Bradbury, who was not an addict, was nonetheless held. He later described beatings and continuous verbal assaults, which for him centered on sexual abuse he?d suffered as a young boy. Staffers and other participants called him a ?faggot,? told him he?d led his abusers on, and forced him to admit ?his part? in the abuse.
Straight ultimately paid out millions of dollars in dozens of lawsuits related to abuse and even kidnapping and false imprisonment of adults. But the Straight network remained in operation until 1993. Even today, at least nine programs in the U.S. and Canada still use tactics, such as host homes and ?motivating,? that come directly from Straight. Some are run by former Straight employees, sometimes in former Straight buildings. Among them: SAFE in Orlando; Growing Together in Lake Worth, Florida; Kids Helping Kids in Cincinnati; the Phoenix Institute for Adolescents in Marietta, Georgia; Turnabout/Stillwater Academy in Salt Lake City; Pathway Family Center in Detroit; the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Center in Calgary, Alberta; and Love in Action, a program aimed at ?curing? homosexual teenagers, located near Memphis. The Straight Foundation itself, which coordinated the organization and doled out the money, never died; it simply renamed itself the Drug Free America Foundation, which to this day works to promote student drug testing and to oppose efforts to end the drug war. Its website lists Mel Sembler and his wife Betty as ?founding members.?
Meanwhile, other organizations found they could profit from tough love with legal impunity. As negative publicity finally began to hurt Straight and skepticism about the drug war itself grew, other groups began to use similar tactics, all converging on a combination of rigid rules, total isolation of participants from both family and the outside world, constant emotional attacks, and physical punishments. These programs were sold as responses not just to drug use but to teenage ?defiance,? ?disobedience,? ?inattention,? and other real or imagined misbehavior.
Military-style ?boot camps? came into vogue in the early ?90s as an alternative to juvenile prison. The media spread fears of a new generation of violent teenaged ?super-predators,? and this solution gained political appeal across the spectrum. Liberals liked that it wasn?t prison and usually meant a shorter sentence than conventional detention; conservatives liked the lower costs, military style, and tough discipline. Soon ?hoods in the woods? programs, which took kids into the wilderness and used the harsh environment, isolation, and spare rations to similar ends, also rose in popularity, as did ?emotional growth? schools, which used isolation and Synanon-style confrontational groups.
Again, little evidence ever supported these programs. When the U.S. Department of Justice began studying the boot camps, it found that they were no more effective than juvenile prison. For a 1997 report to Congress, the department funded a review of the research, which found that the boot camps were ineffective and that there was little empirical support for wilderness programs. In late 2004 the National Institutes of Health released a state-of-the-science consensus statement on dealing with juvenile violence and delinquency. It said that programs that seek to change behavior through ?fear and tough treatment appear ineffective.?
The Way of WWASP (and rest of article):
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